Britten's A Ceremony of Carols
The Gramophone Choice
Coupled with Missa brevis in D, Op 63. A Hymn to the Virgin. A Hymn of St Columba. Jubilate Deo in E flat. Deus in adjutorium meum
Sioned Williams hp Westminster Cathedral Choir / David Hill with James O’Donnell org
Hyperion CDA66220 (49' · DDD · T/t) Buy from Amazon
A Ceremony of Carols sets nine medieval and 16th-century poems between the ‘Hodie’ of the plainsong Vespers. The sole accompanying instrument is a harp, but given the right acoustic, sensitive attention to the words and fine rhythmic control the piece has a remarkable richness and depth. The Westminster Cathedral Choir performs this work beautifully; diction is immaculate and the acoustic halo surrounding the voices gives a festive glow to the performance. A fascinating Jubilate and A Hymn to the Virgin, while lacking the invention and subtlety of A Ceremony, intrigue with some particularly felicitous use of harmony and rhythm. Deus in adjutorium meum employs the choir without accompaniment and has an initial purity that gradually builds up in texture as the psalm (No 70) gathers momentum.
The Missa brevis was written for this very choir and George Malcolm’s nurturing of a tonal brightness in the choir allowed Britten to use the voices in a more flexible and instrumental manner than usual. The effect is glorious. St Columba founded the monastery on the Scottish island of Iona and Britten’s hymn sets his simple and forthright prayer with deceptive simplicity and directness. The choir sings beautifully and the recording is first-rate.